Another article from the Indian Express seemed to corroborate part of the BBC information - the book was being displayed at “Voyages to India of Ludovico de Varthema”. Nevertheless, the same article added that the exhibition comprised "excerpts of Varthema’s book with illustrations", a work translated to about 20 languages(!). This was confusing: did the exhibition consist of the real book or excerpts of it?
Only two things seemed certain: Varthema's story and drawings looked nice AND both my sources were a good example of bad journalism. But still, why legends in Portuguese? Researching the Wikipedia article on Varthema, which corroborates the drawings and 50 languages facts (both very unreliable information), I read that he joined the Portuguese garrison in 1506. So, maybe the drawings were made under Portuguese commission, later included in the book?
So, having in one hand D. Manuel I, Kilwah, gold and mysterious Portuguese legends in beautiful drawings, and on the other misleading internet information, I decided to drink from the source and got myself a nice 1863 British edition of Varthema's book. And here we go, trivia style:
1. Ludovico di Varthema (c. 1470-1517) was a Bolognese who traveled in the middle-East, Asia and East-Africa from the end of 1502 to 1508;
2. He was driven by the avidity for knowledge and exciting experiences, wishing to share his memories with the world;
3. He learned colloquial Arab in a few months and assumed the fake Muslim identity of Yunus (Jonah), what allowed him, for instance, to travel with the Mamlukes and visit the forbidden Mecca, in May 1503. He became the first known non-Muslim to accomplish this;
5. In India he joined the Portuguese garrison, later knighted by the Vice-roy Francisco de Almeida for his services for the Portuguese crown.
6. Returning to Europe via Cape of Good Hope, Azores and Lisbon, in an italian vessel, he was received by King D. Manuel I, who enjoyed listening to his stories, reaffirming his knighthood.
7. He expressed the wish to travel further, this time to the "north", but apparently this didn't materialise.
Next: Varthema's trip and his eye-witness accounts on widows on fire and 16th-century swingers!
Text by Rafael Fraga © 2013
Photos by Rafael Fraga and WikiCommons.
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